What makes successful writers different from amateurs?
We all have our own definition of success. It may be to write x amount of books in x amount of time or self-publish a book a month for a whole year. Whatever success looks like to you as a writer, it’s a good idea to understand and embrace your traits.
We all have unique styles and voices, we specialise in different genres, and will, undoubtedly, share similar attributes. But what are these skills and attributes? And which skills, as a new writer/aspiring author, can you look to learn and improve upon to be successful?
Keep reading … I’m about to share 10 top traits of successful writers so you can strive to embrace these good habits too.
#1 Successful writers are disciplined
Writers usually work from home most of the time. Hurrah! Peace and quiet, focus, no interruptions, sounds like a writer’s paradise, doesn’t it? But with no one to be accountable to, free rein to take leisurely lunches, and the constant temptation of enjoying a duvet day if you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, it’s easy to see why writers struggle to stay on track. However, lying in bed, having PJ days and deciding only to write when your muse is around isn’t going to get you on the path to success. So, if you’re serious about writing, you need to be tougher on yourself. Have a regular routine, set realistic goals, treat your writing as though you were going to work – ie set times, lunch breaks, phone switched off, a to-do list for the day and most of all, be disciplined.
#2 Successful writers are patient
Writing is a rollercoaster, isn’t it? That first rush of ideas is exhilarating. You scrabble around for a pen and paper when the ideas hit you, overjoyed at your genius. But once that initial excitement wanes, reality hits. The halfway point through any writing project can become a real test of patience. Researching your subject, breaking through the roadblocks when the words don’t flow, and silencing your inner critic can test even the most patient of writers.
If you’re serious about writing, though, you will need to practise patience. Similarly, if you’re rushing to self-publish your book by, let’s say, Christmas, and it’s mid-November, don’t rush. If you miss the Christmas deadline, so be it.
Would you rather have a book that’s 3/4s excellent with a disappointing denouement and risk the wrath of your readers? Or give yourself the breathing space it needs to look at/proofread/edit it objectively instead? If you’re craving long-term success, then waiting a couple of more weeks will prove heaps more beneficial.
#3 Successful writers are organised
Although I like to wing it occasionally, I know that when I organise my schedule and my goals, I’m twice as productive. Setting daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly goals helps me to stay focused.
Breaking these goals down into mini ones with their own simple to-do lists works brilliantly for me, too, as I tend to get overwhelmed by the big picture.
So if you want to be a successful writer, you’ll need to get organised. Whether ‘organised’ looks like scheduling a particular time for your writing or it’s about outlining your quarterly plans, you’ll be much more likely to reach your goal and enjoy the success it brings if you have a step-by-step route to pave the way.
#4 Successful writers are productive
If you want to be and remain productive throughout your writing career, you need to be productive. Carve out regular time in your schedule to write. (If Finding Time to Write is a problem, check out my book.) Don’t just have one project on the go, have several. When you’re stuck on a chapter, you can’t waste time waiting for inspiration to strike. Move to a different project and work on that for a day or two, and that thing which was keeping you stuck will dissolve. A productive writer appreciates that it’s not all about writing. Making time for research, edits, proofreading, brainstorming, and self-publishing is all part of the journey, so don’t think you’re wasting time on cover design or proofreading because these are your success building blocks. Find out more Productivity Tips for Writers in my blog.
#5 Successful writers are creative
We’ve already touched on ideas and the excitement of those first stirrings, but creativity for writers takes other forms, too – your vocabulary, for instance.
Writing is a craft that is constantly honed, and the more experience you have, the more creative you become. As well as reading lots of books in all kinds of genres, it’s a good idea when you’re writing to keep a thesaurus nearby.
Be mindful of your word choice. Do you use the same phrases all the time, no matter your genre? Do you have a habit of overusing particular words? Then make a list of your default choices so that when you proofread your book, you’re conscious of them. A simple ‘search and replace’ in Word will show you if you overuse a word. Or if you have the paid version of Grammarly, this is one of the features it highlights – well worth an investment, in my opinion. www.grammarly.com.
#6 Successful writers are determined
We have all heard how long it took the much-adored Harry Potter series to be unleashed into the world, and it’s only down to JK Rowling’s determination (and self-belief) that her best-selling success story has earned her the title of one of the highest-paid authors of all time. And that is one trait that sets successful writers apart from those who are knocked back and remain so.
Be determined. Be purposeful. Treat rejection as a learning curve if you’re trying to secure a literary agent or traditional publisher. Or if you’ve received a 1* review on your self-published book, decide whether it’s a rational 1* or fuelled by an ulterior motive. What can you tweak to increase a 1* to 5*? Is it a simple problem with the way the book’s formatted or has a plot hole emerged that you had overlooked? Then fix it.
For every problem, think of a solution. Take action. Believe in your work. Writing and publishing is a learning curve with many twists and turns. What’s important is that you have the skills, the talent and the drive to write, so don’t take things personally when you’re thrown a curveball. Keep going. Keep planning. Stay determined if you really want success.
#7 Successful writers are knowledgeable
Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, you must have a good knowledge and understanding of a) your subject matter and b) your audience. It isn’t always sufficient to just write what you want to and rely on what you’ve learnt over the years. Is there even a market for the type of book you’re writing? Have there been advancements in your industry/area of expertise that you could benefit from learning, interpreting in your own way, and sharing with your readers?
As a successful writer, you will need a good grasp of how the book market works and what the book-buying public wants or needs. If you’re pitching to potential publishers or writing a book on a popular subject for an over-saturated market, then your chances of success are already limited. Do your research first. Find out what’s out there and do it differently. Do it better. And success will be yours.
#8 Successful writers are insatiable
I’m talking about reading here! A successful writer is a fervent reader. Broaden your reading choices. Don’t just stick with chick-lit if you write chick-lit, pick up a dystopian novel (you might be surprised at how compelling they can be) or a thriller. While you’re reading, look at the use of language, how atmospheres are created, and the show-and-tell ratio, and break down the scene-setting chapters.
You can pick up so many new words, styles and techniques if you branch out into reading other genres, and this will enhance your writing skills as well as your chances of success.
Additionally, buy a tabloid newspaper now and again. The succinct way journalists write is a fascinating lesson in writing. Look at how the sentences start and the brevity of words used to portray a message. Look at the paragraph structure and the attention-grabbing headline. There are so many lessons to be learnt from reading all kinds of writing, so if you want to be a successful writer, read everything as often as possible. You could always listen, too! There’s nothing wrong with having a book for bedtime, a biz book for during the day and an Audible book while you’re walking the dog.
#9 Successful writers are observant
Many writers regale their coffee shop tales and how beneficial they are when they need a surge of inspiration/change of environment. And what better place for eavesdropping on all kinds of juicy conversations? It’s a great opportunity to study facial expressions, watch how people converse, laugh, and enjoy a feast for the senses at the same time .. mmm, that lovely smell of coffee …
Observation skills are paramount if you want to become a successful writer. Listen to the words and phrases people use, their dialect, and their storytelling skills. Watch the hand gestures, the nervous tics, and the way they close conversations. I studied linguistics as part of my English degree with the Open University, and it’s a fascinating subject – conversation starters and closers – well worth diving into. So put down your phone/gadget and use your human senses to observe in all its technicolour glory. That kind of stuff can’t be taught from a screen.
#10 Successful writers are resourceful
We all know the big benefits of repurposing content – turning blogs into books and social media posts into blogs etc. And being resourceful with your content is a surefire way of being successful. It’s not just about regurgitating your content but looking at it from different perspectives, adding different takes on your subject matter, and repurposing your content so it takes less time to create but doesn’t dilute its impact and value on readers.
So, to recap, if you want to be a successful writer, you need to be:
How many can you tick off your list, and how many do you need to work on?
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Feel free to let me know what you think are the best traits of a successful writer.